The Scientific Reason Why Shower Beers Taste Better
Few drinks are as refreshing as a shower beer. There’s something endlessly satisfying about cracking open a cold one while hot water beats down from the shower head. That’s why there’s an entire line of beers brewed specifically for shower drinking. That’s why Margot Robbie evangelizes about the power of the shower beer in interviews. But the idea that a shower beer is better than a normal beer isn’t just in your head, it’s science.
Heat and humidity make scents easier for people to detect. Scent is responsible for around 80 percent of the flavors you pick up, which means you experience a more intensely flavored beer in the shower than when not in the shower.
“Scents are more noticeable when temperature and humidity are higher because the vapor pressure is higher,” primary care physician Dr. Justin Holtzman tells Supercall. The scents you pick up are from molecular compounds in the air that you inhale. When it’s warmer, there’s more energy and the compounds move faster. “It oscillates more and is therefore more likely to make its way into the air and hit your nose receptor so you smell it.”
In short, a hot shower encourages more smells and more intense flavor. The heat and humidity from a shower won’t change what your tongue picks up—sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami—but it will enhance everything else. That “everything else” includes descriptors like orange, vanilla and pine. On a more scientific level, those notes are volatile compounds (for example vanillin, which smells like vanilla) that can be detected in small concentrations. Hot showers make the compounds more volatile, increasing the concentration.
It’s not just with beer. Everything tastes better in the shower. Johan Lundström, a scientist at the Monell Chemical Sense Center, spoke with NPR about shower oranges and credited the volatile compounds as well as an increase in the humidity surrounding the mucous membrane in the nasal cavity. Those two things working together made the “orange odor smell more in the mouth.”
Our noses also work more efficiently in warmer air. When we breathe in cold and dry air, our body brings it up to body temperature and humidifies it very quickly, Dr. Pamela Dalton from the Monell Chemical Sense Center told the Telegraph. “If it is doing that on its own, the other functions of smell and detection may take a back seat,” she said. “When the air is warmed and humidified, it is similar to what our body temperature would be. That is when the nose operates optimally.”
Not all shower beers are equal, however. “Certain notes stand out more than others depending on how volatile they are and the various vapor pressures of the different notes,” Holtzman says.
Without getting too beer nerdy, hops are some of the most volatile compounds in beer. Alpha acids and essential oils from hops added to the beer late in the brewing process add citrus, pine and tropical fruit notes. There are also sulfur compounds, called thiols, in hop oil. Thiols can smell like passion fruit and other tropical fruits. People are extremely sensitive to thiols even in low concentration. Warm and humid air increases that concentration, making them even more noticeable. This is bad if you’re not a fan of hoppy IPAs, but there are always the vanilla and chocolate notes in stouts and porters to retreat to.
If all of this hasn’t sold you on the shower beer yet, there’s one more thing to consider: Your body really enjoys cold beverages in hot environments. In 1971, a Canadian scientist named Michael Cabanac coined the term “alliesthesia,” which is the pleasure that people get when they’re hot and feel something cold or vice versa. Cabanac found that our body triggers all the good feels when we interact with cold things while hot, e.g., a gulp of ice cold beer in a steamy hot shower.
All of this is simply scientific justification for something we all already know: Shower beers are good. Anyone who doesn’t like them hasn’t tried them, but there’s no time like the present so grab a beer and hit the showers. You know, for science.